Video Game Review: Brutal ‘Mortal Kombat’ Wins Fight For Your Time

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CHICAGO – Everybody loves a comeback. One of the most notable comebacks of 2011 will be by a group of characters who you may have boxed away in the attic in your mind years ago — Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Liu Kang, Johnny Cage, Raiden, Kung Lao, Sonya Blade, and many more. “Mortal Kombat” is back and even better than you remember. Video Game Rating: 4.5/5.0
Video Game Rating: 4.5/5.0

My expectations for (and even my initial response to) the new “Mortal Kombat” were pretty low. I’ve played enough reboot attempts and enough fighting games to be less-than-excited about a combination of the two. “Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe” was reasonably entertaining, but it feels like this franchise stepped aside a few years ago for Capcom’s fighting titles, including the recently-released “Marvel vs. Capcom 3.” What could a new “Mortal Kombat” game possibly offer? Haven’t we seen it all before? And would we really want to revisit a relic of the gaming world?

Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Hell yes. “Mortal Kombat” is shockingly enjoyable, the kind of addictive fighting game that will suck hours of your life into a pit of uppercuts, special moves, and fatalities. The game has a brilliant sense of momentum in that it’s “not bad” at first, gets better as you get deeper into it and rise up the learning curve, and, soon enough, has built up the kind of snowball speed that makes it difficult to stop playing. With as many titles as I play in a year, it’s rare for me to feel the pull of one when I’m away from my entertainment center. You know that feeling we had when we were kids — when we sat in homeroom and counted the minutes until we could play again. “Mortal Kombat” brings some of that addictive feeling back. When you stop playing, it’s not long before you just have to fire up your machine again.

Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

What players will notice first about the 2011 edition of “Mortal Kombat” is the visual polish. It looks great but, even more importantly, it looks well-balanced. It’s typical 2D and the developers wisely avoided too much flash in their presentation. There was a period there were fighting games just got weighed down by backgrounds that were distracting and character animations that were too complex to flow seamlessly during a fight. “Mortal Kombat” just looks right. Sure, there are a few animations that seem a bit off but it’s a very small percentage. Most of the character design, backgrounds, and graphic details are spectacular. The “Story” mode is made up of a MASSIVE number of cut-scenes that could have used a bit more visual flair but the majority of the game looks great.

The “Story” mode boasts the “deepest story mode of any fighting game” and reimagines the story of the first three “Mortal Kombat” games. Yes, it’s three games in one. I enjoyed the “Story” mode as a sort of “random fight generator” in that it weaves different combatants through a long story but DAMN are the cutscenes long (and totally unskippable). Don’t play the story late at night or if you’re in the mood for a quick fighting fix. It’s for the hardcore fans who want to know more about the character backgrounds.

Of course, the place to go for the quick fix is the standard “Fight!” section. There you can climb a ladder mode on your own or in a tag team function, picking your favorite fighter to try and rise to the top of the “Mortal Kombat” ranks. Difficulty here is well-balanced with a wide variety of options for different fighting styles. Personally, I dig the quicker fighters like Sonya or Liu Kang over the heavy, weapons-armed ones. But there’s something for everyone.

Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

And you can sample all of the styles and learn many of the moves through the brilliant “Challenge Tower,” a series of challenges with different fighters, settings, and restrictions. For example, in one fight, you’ll have to win by only using your special moves. In another, you can only throw projectiles. It may sound boring, but it’s a fantastic, addictive mode that basically plays like a giant tutorial for the rest of the game. Spend some time in the Challenge Tower and you’ll learn techniques and modes to take to the Story or Online. It’s like practice for the big game but it’s wildly entertaining on its own as well.

As for new moves, players will ooh and aah over the very-impressive X-Ray moves, a special fighting move earned by filling a power bar that then allows a series of hits that features X-Ray shots of bones breaking. It’s damn fun and the timing of it is crucial to winning the most intense fights. The power bar can be used to enhance certain special moves, break your opponents, or saved for the big finale of an X-Ray move.

Reviewing fighting games can be tough because they really need to be experienced to be appreciated. I saw “Mortal Kombat.” I even started playing it and was still kind of nonplussed. “Mortal Kombat” needs to work on you. It needs to get under your skin. You’ll inevitably give in to one of the best fighting games in a very long time. “Mortal Kombat” is back in a big way.

Check out this gameplay trailer before you join the tournament:

“Mortal Kombat” was released by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and developed by NetherRealm Studios. It hit stores on April 19th, 2011. It is rated M (Mature). The version reviewed was for the Xbox 360, but the game is also available for the PS3. content director Brian Tallerico

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